The word has two meanings when it comes to episode two of The Walking Dead. For one, the second installment of AMC's newest (and enormously successful) television series thrusts average men and women into one of the single most traumatic scenarios that one can possibly think of. Not only is the situation completely hopeless on the surface, it's an absolute nightmare: with no escape in sight, the only thing the survivors we encounter in this latest episode can definitively count on is a slow, gruesome death at the trembling teeth of the world's most nightmarish monsters... unless they can get creative and conjure up a bold, ballsy and -- yes -- gusty strategy to overcome the odds, cheat death and save their butts from certain doom.
The other meaning? Well, this is a zombie show -- surely you can put the pieces together.
As Erik Amaya wrote in his review on Comic Book Resources, "Guts" is much faster and much more intense than "Days Gone Bye," at least in terms of immediacy. Where the series premiere focused solely on Rick Grimes and the man and son who immediately crossed his path, "Guts" casts the net wider, introducing a colorful assortment of characters that significantly changes the shape of the series. Andrew Lincoln shouldered the bulk of the burden in the show's series premiere, but he has plenty of help this time around in the form of Steven Yeun as Glenn, Laurie Holden as Andrea, Michael Rooker as Merle Dixon and several other actors -- and without any disrespect meant towards Lincoln, it's nothing short of relieving that he's got some new company.
The addition of fresh faces is satisfying on an immediate level, most notably in the form of Glenn. Already one of the most beloved characters in Robert Kirkman's comics, Glenn pops off the page and decisively to life thanks to a combination of winning writing and a wonderfully warm, humorous and charismatic performance from Yeun. The little known actor positively owns the role, producing a compelling character that provides The Walking Dead with a sturdy spine much in the same way that Pete Campbell and Jesse Pinkman have grown into essential ingredients on Mad Men and Breaking Bad; although both shows rely on the continued presence of Don Draper and Walter White, neither would flourish so completely without the less experienced and composed Pete and Jesse. That's the role that Glenn occupies here: wide-eyed and quick with a punch line, Glenn's presence is a welcome breath of fresh air from Rick's necessarily more serious and everything-to-gain-and-everything-to-lose outlook.
Rooker is the episode's other standout as Merle Dixon, a character created specifically for Frank Darabont's series. He personifies the perfect example of why deviating from Kirkman's source material is A-OK, presenting viewers with the first human character that we actually want to see eviscerated by the endlessly hungry undead. It takes a while to find that guy in Kirkman's series -- and even then, we don't get our bloodlust satisfied in quite the right way, even if it's a wonderfully powerful moment -- but Rooker chews on the part, savoring the taste and swishing it in his mouth for all the world to see. It's a wonderful performance, if rarely a likable one, that's sure to linger heavily throughout the rest of the season.
Neither of these performances take too much attention away from Lincoln -- indeed, both characters' finest moments come opposite the British actor -- and it really is Rick himself who lives up to the episode's title, in more ways than one. If actions speak louder than words, then Rick's decisions in "Guts" tell you everything you need to know about this southern lawman: this is a man willing to do anything he can to protect his family, yes, but he's also a man willing to put himself out on the line when he's at least partially responsible for a potentially life-ending threat -- and he does so with surprisingly little reservation, despite how much he has to live for and lose.
"Guts" not only improves on the series premiere in the blood by the buckets department, it also ups the ante in demonstrating how far a man will go when his life is on the line, no matter how chaotic and horrific the situation. In the end, we all have guts on at least one level -- whether or not we have the kind that Rick Grimes seems to have is another story altogether.
Tell us what you think of "Guts" in the comments section, and be sure to tune into Spinoff Online tomorrow for Kevin Melrose's recap of the episode.